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Supplier Diversity

ConAgra Foods makes big business of supplier diversity

With $300 million in annual diverse spending, ConAgra sets rules for itself that open doors for diverse suppliers. World Wide Technology is a partner that excels


When ConAgra Foods (Omaha, NE) launched an effort to boost its supplier diversity in 2003, it was an informal program without specific targets or a designated manager, says Angela Griffith, the company’s procurement manager for supplier diversity.

With the hiring of its first diversity manager in 2006, ConAgra began to formalize its spending goals and create a strategy for bringing in new diverse suppliers, as well as identify those that were already part of its supplier base. Since that time, the company’s supplier diversity spending goals have increased each year. Today ConAgra spends more than $300 million with diverse suppliers, twice the outlay for 2006, according to Griffith. “We set our goals all the way down to the category level,” Griffith says. “Our buyers in each category have their own goals, which drives accountability.”

Per company policy, any purchase that goes out to bid must include at least one diverse supplier in the procurement process. Training buyers is another key component of the program’s success. “I take some buyers with me when I go to supplier business fairs, so they can see how important this is, not only to ConAgra Foods but also to our customers and our suppliers,” Griffith says.

At first, the program focused only on women and minority-owned businesses. ConAgra joined the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, doing outreach at those organizations’ national conventions. The company also became a member of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Later, the program expanded to include 8(a)-certified companies, veteran-owned business enterprises, LGBT-owned suppliers and other categories.

World Wide Technology: word gets around
Griffith took over the supplier diversity program in 2010. The following year, she met Malcolm Goodwin, director of diversity business development for MBE World Wide Technology, Inc (WWT, St. Louis, MO) at an NMSDC event. Mutual business partner Cisco Systems, Inc facilitated the connection.

“ConAgra chose WWT, not because we were a diverse partner, but because we had the expertise and the strengths ConAgra was looking for to help them take their data center to the next generation,” Goodwin says.

Griffith was impressed by the IT company’s business model, and by the fact that it was a corporate-class member of NMSDC. When she got back to ConAgra to share her impressions, she found there already was a buzz about WWT, which is a systems integrator and supply chain solutions provider.

“I was working on the procurement side, but the technical side was hearing the name a lot, too,” Griffith says. “They were getting a lot of good press, so to speak.”

Providing key voice technology and data storage
Ladi Adefala, lead security practice engineer at WWT, says his company provides ConAgra with traditional and next-generation voice technology, and enhancements to the core infrastructure network that supports it. The vendor has also tightened security and improved the data storage system. “The data center is very significant for ConAgra, as it houses their key applications,” Adefala says.

Adefala, who joined WWT seven years ago, manages a group of IT security experts who are part of the firm’s pre-sale engineering support team.

Though its name reflects an ambitious vision of international influence, Goodwin says World Wide Technology started out in 1990 with five employees and 4,000 square feet of office space. Co-founder David Steward, an African American, is majority owner, and Jim Kavanaugh is his business partner and CEO. Now boasting 2,300-plus employees, WWT posted more than $5 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2012, according to Goodwin. It’s one of the largest African American-owned companies in the U.S.

“We are truly worldwide now,” Goodwin says. “We support customers not only here in the United States, but also in places like Shanghai, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the EU.”

Before joining the staff, Goodwin spent three years doing diversity consulting work for WWT through his own Des Moines, Iowa-based business.

Because its initial focus was on government contracts, WWT secured federal 8(a) certification. Later, the firm was certified by NMSDC and formed alliances with nearly all of that organization’s regional councils. WWT has maintained its certified MBE status with NMSDC.

“We graduated from the 8(a) program early because, quite frankly, we outgrew the program, in both revenue and number of employees,” Goodwin says.

ConAgra accepts MBE, WBE and VBE certification in diverse suppliers. The company also seeks LGBT-owned suppliers and 8(a)-certified businesses. Suppliers interested in finding out about opportunities to work with ConAgra can register at www.conagrafoods.com.

Paying supplier diversity forward
WWT implemented its own supplier diversity program more than three years ago. Diversity spending through the program has grown from $39 million with fifty-four suppliers in 2010 to $121 million with 206 suppliers in 2012, according to Goodwin.

“We are big believers in paying it forward,” Goodwin says. “We understand the opportunity we’ve been given to be successful, and we need to make sure there are opportunities for other women and minority-owned businesses to be successful as well. And we have a very robust program to support that.”

Goodwin notes that supplier diversity managers often face internal resistance, because their job is to change the way an organization does business. But he says his experience with WWT’s Griffith has shown that she is more than up to the task.

“Angela is one of the more engaged and involved diversity managers I’ve worked with,” Goodwin says. “It’s extremely important for the success of companies like World Wide to have excellent champions like Angela, because doors can shut pretty quickly if you don’t have the kind of internal support and business drivers we found at ConAgra.”

Griffith explains why WWT is the kind of company she loves to have on her list of vendors.

“When you get a diverse supplier into the organization and they excel and do great things, it’s very rewarding,” Griffith says. “If it goes the other way, it just makes my job that much harder, so I really appreciate the great work that they’re doing.”

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